Party labels among WA Secretary of State’s debate topics | National government and new policies

By RACHEL LA CORTE – Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Democratic Secretary of State Steve Hobbs and nonpartisan Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson agreed on a lot of things Wednesday in their first debate before the November election: do more to engage and assure voters of the safety and security of the state’s electoral system, there should be an effort to increase audits to further combat election misinformation and support for changing the date of the presidential primaries. state august.

But the agreements went no further.

They disagreed on the idea of ​​preferential voting and the role partisan labels play in a position overseeing elections at a time of heightened political polarization across the country.

“I don’t believe political parties should be in the secretary of state’s office, and I think the secretary of state in particular should be free from partisan influence,” Anderson said.

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Hobbs said he doesn’t think party labels matter and instead “what matters is who you have in the office”. He noted that former Republican secretaries of state worked in a bipartisan affair, which he said he also did when he was in the state Senate.

There were no nonpartisan secretaries of state in Washington, but the last one who was not a member of either the GOP or the Democratic Party was Will Jenkins, a populist elected in 1896 who served one term.

Hobbs was nominated by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee last November to replace Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman once she took a key election security post in the Biden administration, marking the first time a Democrat had held the position since the mid-1960s. The November election will determine who serves the final two years of Wyman’s term.

In the August 2 primary, Hobbs faced seven opponents and garnered about 40% of the vote. Anderson garnered just under 13%, edging out four Republicans and excluding the GOP from the November race.

During Wednesday’s debate, hosted by the Association of Washington Business, Anderson highlighted his experience overseeing hundreds of elections in Pierce County, the state’s second-largest county by population.

“The job of secretary of state is too important to be given to an inexperienced politician,” she said. “Partisanship is a destructive distraction in a job like this.”

Hobbs noted that he had already done the job for nearly a year and said his prior service in the U.S. military and continued experience as a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard had prepared him for the challenges facing election officials will continue to cope.

“The Office of the Secretary of State has evolved beyond simply overseeing elections and supporting our 39 counties to become a position where we protect our democracy from cyber threats and disinformation campaigns,” he said. .

Additionally, Hobbs — who is of Japanese descent and is the first person of color to lead the office — said it’s important to have elected officials who reflect communities that may not feel represented.

“I understand these communities all too well,” he said.

The other key area of ​​disagreement was over ranked choice voting, a voting option Seattle voters will weigh in on a November ballot measure. In ranked choice, voters rank candidates by preference. If no candidate receives a majority of the first choice votes, subsequent rankings are considered until a majority is reached.

Hobbs said if local jurisdictions adopt such election options, his office is obligated to assist them and will help them pursue them. But he expressed concern, saying that with the challenges of getting people to vote under current conditions, it would be counterproductive to impose a new system on them, especially communities of color and people with intellectual disabilities.

“I’m not against that idea,” he said. “What I’m against is rushing in and not thinking about these Washingtonians who are going to be disenfranchised.”

Anderson noted that dozens of jurisdictions across the country are already using preferential choice voting and that “the sky hasn’t fallen on us.”

“Ranked Choice Voting is coming to Washington State, and I don’t know which local jurisdiction it’s going to land in first, but what I do know is we’re going to need a Secretary of State. who is not going to stick his head in the sand and is going to get ahead,” she said.

In addition to being the state’s chief electoral officer, the secretary of state is also the chief executive of corporations and supervisor of the state archives and state library.

This story has been updated to correct that Pierce County is the second largest in the state by population.

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